Why is it so hard to say no?

Saying ‘no’ in the workplace can be hard. Learn how, why and when to say reject extra work and additional stress on the job.

It can be extremely hard to say ‘no’ in the workplace. It’s such a short, simple word to say. But building the courage actually utter the word to your boss or your colleagues can be pretty nerve-wracking! When should you say ‘no’? How should you say ‘no’? There are so many questions surrounding this two-letter word. Read on to help uncover some of the answers.

1. When to say no at work

If something is unethical, illegal or unsafe, you should absolutely say no. But if the request is part of your job description and you have capacity to do it, you should say yes. The rest is a grey area and requires your discretion to decide, but as a general rule, if you don’t have the skill set or you don’t have the time to complete the request properly, you should say no.

2. How to say no the right way

Most people worry about how to say no without giving the wrong impression that you’re not a team player.  It’s not necessarily going to be easy, but there are ways to say no at work. It’s all about the context and the way in which you do it.

3. Lean on your team for support

If you’re lucky enough to work with a group of people or even another colleague, always consider the thought that perhaps there is someone in your team that would love the chance to work on this piece – check with them first, then tell the requester that you know of someone who’s ready, willing and able to take this task on.

4. Communication is key

Explain your reasons for refusing. If you physically can’t do something or don’t have time, instead of saying no, remember to ask for assistance with prioritising your workload or getting guidance on the aspects of the task you don’t understand. People will always prefer you to ask for assistance rather than give up before you’ve tried.

Tips to learn how to say no at work:

  • If you really think that there’s a reason for saying ‘no’ be sure to explain that in a constructive way without being confrontational.
  • Before saying ‘no’, check with your team to see if anyone else is able to help you with the request.
  • Always give a reason or explanation for why you think you can’t do something.
  • Try to say ‘yes’ to any reasonable request at work, but if something is dangerous or unethical don’t get involved in it!

Practicing saying no to additional work, without feeling guilty:

Practice different ways of saying no. This is something you can do with friends, family or even supportive colleagues. Ask people to come up with over the top requests then practice how you can deliver a satisfactory response.


CPA Career Mentor


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